EDINBURG — Salt Lake City outscored RGV 3-1 in overtime and the Stars claimed their fifth straight win with a 124-122 win over the defending NBA G League champion Vipers on Tuesday at Bert Ogden Arena.
After an opening day win at Austin, the Vipers have now lost eight straight games and hold the league’s worst record at 1-8. They complete their current homestand at 7:30 p.m. Saturday as former Vipers player Gary Payton II returns to town after being a key player in RGV’s run to their third championship in franchise history last year.
The Vipers trailed most of the night but kept climbing back. They trailed by as many as 14 at 102-88 after the third quarter. Much of that had to do with the Stars shooting 56% on the night and 45% from 3-point land.
And while the Vipers rank last in defensive efficiency in the league, as well as in defensive rebounds, it was a flash of defense and some aggressive offensive play that brought them back in the game’s final 2:30, down 115-109.
“We took steps in the right direction tonight,” Vipers head coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah said. “We’ve got to continue to handle adversity like if we are down three, then back down 11. We’ve got to be able to fight through those things without me having to take a timeout.”
Sindarius Thornwell aggressively followed his own miss to score and Jaron Blossomgame and Roger Moute a Bidias each hit a two-point free throw to cut the lead to two. They tied it at 117 when Jarred Vanderbilt rebounded and scored off a missed Angel Rodriguez shot. Later, with Salt Lake City up 121-119 and with the ball, a Rodriguez stole the ball from behind a Stars player and passed to Blossomgame for a dunk that brought a home crowd wildly to their feet after being quiet for the most part of the first three games of the home stand.
The Vipers started the game suspiciously slow, turning the ball over with three poor passes that on one occasion a player cutting through the paint wasn’t even looking for the ball.
Still, the offensive production and tempo was much more what the Vipers have come to be known for. Ironically, however, it wasn’t from 3-point land but more from aggressive play attacking the basket and scoring from the paint.
At the half, the Vipers trailed 68-63 but had outscored the Stars 34-26 in the paint. Ray Spalding and Jarred Vanderbilt each scored two points during the first half, while Matur Maker added eight points. The three were a combined 12 of 15 from the floor, each of them 4 of 5. The remainder of the team was a combined 10 for 29 (34 percent).
Known over the years for their high tempo and prolific 3-point shooting, the Vipers have not been able to find the range from behind the arc this year. At the half, they were just 5 of 15 from long distance and 10 for 31 for the game, meanwhile the Stars were 11 for 19 (58%). Stars center William Howard couldn’t — and didn’t — miss from deep in the first half, connecting on all six of his 3-point attempts to lease all scorers with 20 at the half and Salt Lake City led RGV, 68-63. Howard ended up 7-for-9 from long distance and finished with 27 points. The Stars connected on 17 of 38 3-pointers for the game.
“I showed them his stats at the half,” Abdelfattah said when asked about the adjustment made to covering Howard in the second half. “I told them they have to recognize who they are guarding but we took some good steps and it was good to see they didn’t want to lose.
Blossomgame led the team with 28 points, followed by Vanderbilt with a double-double performance with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Six Vipers scored in double digits and the other two who played each scored eight points.
“We had 21 turnovers today and that’s just a few too many,” Abdelfattah said. “But overall, we made progress.”